As its first chairwoman, Jo Ann Davidson built the Ohio Casino Control Commission from scratch, shepherding the rules, regulations and oversight staff necessary to ensure that the four Ohio casinos approved by voters in 2009 operate above board.
Davidson had opposed the casino ballot initiative, but when Gov. John Kasich asked her to set up and direct the commission, she attacked the challenge.
“It’s been a good learning experience,” Davidson said.
Learning experience implies she gained knowledge to use in the future. She is 86 years old.
With an attitude that defines optimism, Davidson is too busy and has too many jobs to dwell on the past. Tomorrow, and the next day and the next are her focus.
“I don’t have any plans to retire. The good Lord will take care of that when the time comes. I’v e been very blessed with a high degree of energy.”
Retire, no. Pause, yes — as she did last night so several hundred friends and admirers, including the three most recent Republican governors, could gather in the Statehouse Atrium for the unveiling of her official portrait to be hung in the Women’s Gallery.
Calling her “iconic,” Kasich told the audience, “Jo Ann has gotten into people’s DNA. She’s given women a sense of what they can do.”
Kasich was joined by former Govs. George V. Voinovich and Bob Taft.
Voinovich, also a former U.S. senator, said, “History will record that no woman in Ohio history has accomplished what Jo Ann Davidson has.”
Painted by Toledo artist Leslie Adams, the portrait captures Davidson in the chamber of the Ohio House of Representatives, where she served from 1980 to 2001. She is Ohio’s only female House speaker, serving for six years beginning in 1995.
“Obviously, being speaker was one of the highlights of my political career,” Davidson said in an interview before the event. “Life is about relationships. So many people just don’t realize that, but that’s what it’s all about. So you hope the relationships you build and the friends you have made mean people thought you’ve been helpful to them.”
From parochial venues, such as the Reynoldsburg PTA and City Council, to the speakership, to the highest ranks of partisan politics as former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, Davidson has wrapped her own life around making the lives of others successful.
“There is not one organization that she’s a member of that she hasn’t immediately — not by declaration but by acclamation — become a leader, because she knows how to get things done, she knows how to include people, she knows how to assess the doable versus the not doable, and she treats people with respect,” said Betty D. Montgomery, former Ohio attorney general and auditor, and a close friend.
Even at her age, Davidson works tirelessly — for a small number of lobbying clients; for the GOP officeholders and candidates she mentors and supports as a member of the RNC and the Ohio Republican Party Central Committee; for the taxpayers, on numerous public commissions; and for students, as a former member of the Ohio State University Board of Trustees and a current member of the boards of Franklin University and the University of Findlay.
“Jo Ann is somebody whose approval I seek and whose judgment I trust because she doesn’t gloss over anything,” Kasich said. “She’s sort of like a teacher that I’ve always wanted to please — maybe not so much please but to get her acceptance.”
Lydia Mihalik, mayor of Davidson’s hometown of Findlay, said, “Learning from her gave me a ton of inspiration and confidence to pursue becoming a political leader.”
Now 33, Mihalik is finishing her second year as mayor, the first political office she sought. She attributes her success, in part, to the knowledge and political skills she learned over nine months as an enrollee in the Jo Ann Davidson Ohio Leadership Institute.
Davidson established the institute in 2000 to provide training and support to increase the number of Republican women in public and community service and GOP leadership. She was motivated, Davidson said, by her own experiences as a candidate and by the difficulty she had recruiting women candidates as head of the House GOP campaign committee.
“Part of the reason they didn’t run is because they didn’t have enough self-confidence, and that was something we needed to address, because there was not much help out there for women candidates."
Mihalik, one of the institute’s 259 graduates from 50 Ohio counties, proudly recalls graduation day in 2010 when she stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., with Davidson and Montgomery, brimming with confidence about the mayor’s race ahead.
Davidson’s first taste of politics was as a supporter of GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater in 1964. Since then, she has seen the ideological “pendulum swing back and forth” in her party.
“In those days, being a Goldwater supporter was like being a tea partier today,” Montgomery said, “but she’s smart enough to look around and learn what works, what doesn’t, and then evaluate."
Viewed as a moderate, Davidson acknowledged the tea party-fueled division within the GOP, but said the party is built on “a rock-solid foundation of some basic principles.” She is confident that “we’ll find our way.”
No matter what, Davidson could never abandon the GOP.
“I’m a party person, so I tend to stay with the party,” she said, noting that she is “still drawn by the political thing” and is looking forward to helping Kasich and other Republicans win next year.
“I’m just a political person that started chasing the fire engines and find that I’m still challenged by campaigns and trying to strategize on the campaigns.”
By Joe Hallett - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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